Electroconvulsive Trauma?

EEG Electroencephalogram, brain wave in awake state with mental activityIs 80 Years of Electrocuting the Brain Enough?¹

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust clearly doesn’t think so! In a training video on depression, the tutor (a Registered Mental Health Nurse) can be heard saying of Electroconvulsive Therapy (“ECT”) to three other mental health nurses [paraphrased]:

“[Is] very old… seems a bit strange…. seems to improve mood when really  depressed – it’s really effective, we don’t know why or how [but] it works for a lot of people.”

We invited Dr John Read, lead author of recent academic research detailed below, to view this training video. He responded:

“Had a quick look. Irresponsible not to mention brain damage/memory loss.”

The wife of a Southern Health patient, known to us, agrees with Dr Read. She describes the effect of ECT on her husband:

“Memory fried, executive dysfunction. Can’t work or live independently”²

I wonder why Southern Health doesn’t use this example in its training video?

Electroconvulsive therapy. Vector icon.

So what is Electroconvulsive Therapy, as it is deceptively known?

It is the application of electrodes to the head to pass electricity through the brain with the deliberate goal of causing an intense seizure or convulsion.  


Electroconvulsive “therapy” is a misleading term. It’s detractors say ECT is not a therapy: it damages the brain. Called, “A Crime Against Humanity” by Wayne Ramsay JD, Electroconvulsive Trauma might be a more accurate term.  

Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Peter R. Breggin MD, called “The Conscience of Psychiatry” for decades of successful efforts to reform the mental health field, writes of ECT:

“Abundant evidence indicates ECT should be banned. Because ECT destroys the ability to protest, all ECT quickly becomes involuntary and thus inherently abusive and a human rights violation. Therefore, when ECT has already been started, concerned relatives or others should immediately intervene to stop it, if necessary with an attorney.” Read more here→

In November 2019, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry³ published peer-reviewed research by John Read PhD, University of East London, Irving Kirsch PhD, Harvard Medical School, and Laura McGrath PhD, University of East London. They concluded:

“The scarcity and poor quality of most of the findings suggesting that ECT has short-term benefits for some depressed people, the complete lack of evidence of long-term benefits, and the absence of evidence that it prevents suicide, together with the high risk of permanent memory loss and small increased risk of death, broadly confirms the conclusions of previous reviews…. For example (Read & Bentall, 2010):

“‘Given the strong evidence of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction, primarily evidenced in the form of retrograde and anterograde amnesia, and the evidence of a slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified (p. 333). . . . The very short-term benefit gained by a small minority cannot justify the significant risks to which all ECT recipients are exposed.'” 

The BBC also wrote about the research on 3 June 2020, ‘ECT depression therapy should be suspended‘ quoting the conclusion of the research:

“The high risk of permanent memory loss and the small mortality risk means that its use should be immediately suspended”.

The lead author, Dr Read’s opinion of previous research justifying use of ECT is:

“The lowest quality [research] of any I have seen in my 40-year career.”

The US Citizens Commission on Human Rights claims that the ECT death rate is 50 times higher than the US murder rate. The Commission provides ‘Quick Facts’ about ECT here.

Leading neurosurgeon Dr. Norman Shealy says:   

“One fact about ECT: It damages the brain. Period…. ECT should have been banned 50 years ago.”

What ECT Survivors Say  (Warning: the four videos here are distressing).

After 2009, UK law was altered so that ECT cannot be given to any patient who is able to refuse consent. However, emergency administration is still allowed regardless of capacity to consent and, in the case of a patient who lacks capacity, regardless of the wishes of the patient’s nearest relative. I know two nearest relatives of Southern Health patients, who say their loved one’s lives have been wrecked by ECT given against the relatives wishes. 

ECT has been banned in some countries, including Italy, Slovenia, and some cantons of Switzer­land (according to Larry Tye in his ironically titled book Shock: The Healing Power of Electro­convulsive Therapy,’ [Penguin 2006, p. 22]).

On 2 July 2020, 40 mental health professionals and researchers, and ECT recipients
and their family members, wrote an open letter to Peter Wyman, Chair of the CQC to request that ECT be immediately suspended throughout the NHS, pending further 
research to determine its efficacy and safety. Read the media release here→

The letter itself (available here) was copied to Ministers and the CEOs and Medical Directors of all NHS mental health trusts.  

Let’s not wait another 50 years!
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1 thought on “Electroconvulsive Trauma?

  1. Pingback: Therapy or Torture? | Campaign for Reform At Southern Health

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